Normally, I like to give a summary of where we have come from for context, but because like last week when we chose to handle Hebrews 11 in one big meal, so to speak, we did the same thing with Chapter 12. In order to maximize our time in the chapter itself, I will give an abbreviated summary of where we have been.
Up until now, we have been seeing how God in these last days (John calls these days “the last hour” in his first general epistle) has chosen to speak to us through the person of His Son, through whom He has disclosed Himself to mankind fully. That Son, we saw is none other than Jesus, the long-promised Messiah (Gk., Christ; Eng., Anointed One). Jesus had come as a better high priest of a better priesthood with a better sacrifice, that would give a better redemption, better resurrection, and better reward than that of the Levitical (or any other) priesthood, who we saw were mere types and shadows that spoke of Him in Old Testament Scripture. We in fact saw all that in great detail, and had opportunity to speak of Moses, of Abraham, of Melchizedek, and others, and what that all meant and pointed to in the New Testament or Covenant under Jesus. What seems to have emerged is that this is a Covenant that is received by faith, or in terms of the five Solae of the Reformation, Sola Fide. And with that foundational ideal discussed in great detail in Chapter 11, we come to chapter 12.
Faced with yet another incredibly good chapter, we’ll jump right in.
[Chapter Summary sharing here for those that have completed one.]
I broke the chapter down as follows:
KV1: Faith moves us to obedient endurance
1-3: Run the race with longsuffering
4-11: Endure discipline with longsuffering
12-17: Pursue sanctification with longsuffering
18-24: Because you have come to heavenly reality
25-29: Warning not to be shaken
KV1: Faith moves us to obedient endurance
An obvious undertone in the chapter that I saw was the idea of longsuffering. The word is often translated “endurance” in the New American Standard, but it means a remaining under a circumstance over time, sometimes repeatedly, depending on the situation. That endurance requires patience, and thus it can be called longsuffering. Last chapter, we saw that faith alone moved those who truly had it to an obedience to God and His Law that was intended to (and does) please Him. But obeying once is not enough, we must obey continuously and constantly. With that kind of obedience required, some encouragement in that direction is both necessary and called for. That’s what the breakdown does for me in this chapter.
1-3: Run the race with longsuffering
Therefore, the first three verses encourage us to do just that. The image it uses is a race. It tells us not just to run, but to keep running with endurance. Let’s look at what it has to say.
1: Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
- The first thing we should notice is everyone’s favorite connective, conclusion-drawing word, “therefore.” And what do we do when we see the word therefore? Why we see what it’s there for! In this case it establishes context by connecting this thought unit with the one immediately previous – those of whom the world was not worthy – all the believers that have gone before us and others running with us today.
- Since we have. Another context-establishing phrase – this one is a condition-setting one that can be substituted with the word “because.” So because what?
- So great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Beloved, we have around us those who have completed the earthly portion of their race and have crossed the finish line. All believers from all time, both Old and New Testaments. We know the names of a few, and some are famous, and some we don’t know and are not. Whatever their individual cases may be, rest assured that each one of them is elect of God and precious to Him and loved by Him. That cloud of witnesses includes every saint that has ever lived to this point in time, and will include those yet to come. These are those of whom the world will never be worthy until Christ returns and fixes the place. Those who were listed off in the last chapter, and many others who were not listed are included.
- Because of THAT cloud of witnesses to our race and to the glory of God in their lives and ours, let us also lay aside every encumbrance. When you compete in a track and field event like running, you carry only what you need. An extra ounce can weigh you down enough over distance to be an impediment that will slow you down or stop you from finishing.
- And the sin that so easily entangles us. The picture I always think of is a large web made by spiders. It is meant to entangle and ensnare the victim, and even restrict it further as it struggles against it in its own strength. The Greek word for it is euperistatos, a three-part compound word. Eu = well, peri = around, and statos, standing. It surrounds us just like that web. It easily encompasses us, and further, it describes sin as having advantage in favour of its prevailing over the one surrounded in this verse. We need here for this race to lay it aside. John Owen, in his work The Mortification of Sin, said this is best done by killing sin, or putting it to death regularly as a sort of process. In fact, his most memorable quote from that work is, “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” Lay it aside, brethren.
- So having put all that to the side, we are to run with endurance the race set before us. The race or if you prefer a more general term contest, is one that you will have to do your very best to get through. We must compete here with endurance, which is often by King James translators rendered “longsuffering.” It works two ways – we must do it constantly, certainly. We must do it also as many times as necessary to get to the finish line. And we need to run our OWN race, not everybody else’s race. Everyone is accountable for their own actions, and this is our lifelong action set.
2: fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
- For those of you that have ever been in a competition of sorts, you know that in order to get through it, you need to focus on the desired outcome. For a foot race, that is the finish line. For a wrestling match, it is outpointing your opponent. For a diver, it is minimizing the splash when you enter the water. For the Christian, it is being like Christ. Why? Because He is the “founder and completer” of our faith, that firm persuasion or opinion held, you will recall from last study.
- Why on Jesus? Because He is our great example. As if we were in the hands of a great sculptor, we are to have all the bits that do not look like Jesus cut away from us to leave us made into His general image. Our personalities being sanctified, that may remain depending on how well we submit to His Lordship here, but He will complete us. Here He is giving us a very easy way to do imitate Him – do what He did.
- Who for the joy set before Him. Although I am sure that the cross was not a fun experience (how could it be), it filled Jesus with joy to do the Father’s will, and that will included the cross for Jesus.
- So He endured it. There is that word again. [hupomeno, to stay behind, to remain in a place instead of leaving it, to abide under; specifically in this verse and verse 3 following, “to endure bravely and trustfully, suggesting endurance under what would be burdensome.” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words)]
- Despising the shame. He thought nothing of it is the idea expressed in the Greek text. The word shame here implies that which is visited upon a person by the wicked [same source].
- And at the end of all this, He sat down at the right hand of the throne of God the Father! We have seen this image all the way through Hebrews, friends. He sat down because His work was done. He reached His finish line, so to speak. This is important to us, because He told us that the world would hate us in the same way it hated Him. How does one endure that?
3: For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
In our case, we consider Him who accomplished it. It isn’t so much that He did it so we can too – that’s not accurate – but that He finished the work, and now calls us to follow in the strength He supplies us. So the encouragement is to consider Him. The word for “consider” is analogizomai, where we get our English word analogy. It is one of the ways that we can understand what He accomplished on our behalf. It literally means to consider – to think about, analyze, and make decisions by means of Him.
What is so worth our consideration> How he endured, or was longsuffering about, the hostility borne to Him by sinners, which number once included US! The second half of Romans 1 (18-32) talks about how there is no sin except that which is against God, and He is God the Son. Anyone speaking the real Gospel that Jesus died in our place to pay for our sins and then decides to name a few of the popular ones KNOWS what hostility means. I have been shut out of job opportunities as a Christian. I have had to refuse some myself, like the job offered to me by the Ottawa Sun selling ads to escort services in the early 1990s. Some, I was told that because I was a Christian, I was not welcome in the biology department. It was enough to make one very tired. Weary. The word is Weary.
But this is why we must consider Him – so that we will NOT grow weary and lose heart. I would like to tell you that things have improved over the 25 or so years ago some of this took place – but I can’t. With the exception of one 6-year period, I have always had to scramble and trust the Lord to keep a roof over my head, and it is no different now that I am in bi-vocational ministry. Like those men of old, I find myself destitute, afflicted, and ill-treated by the world, and sometimes by those who call themselves brothers and sisters as I seek to hold onto what the Scriptures say. The single thing that keeps me going is that I consider Him and how He set the example. And it fills my heart with absolute JOY to follow Him and do His will here on earth as it is done in heaven. After all, for us here now, isn’t that the main point?
4-11: Endure discipline with longsuffering
We see that we are in a contest, and we are competing with our sin-filled old nature to see God’s work done in our lives. Sometimes, that comes with the temptation to cut corners and do it our own way instead of how He would do it, or against His specific direction. When that happens, we may find ourselves in the position of needing a little heavenly parental discipline.
This issue is harder for me to talk about sometimes, for two reasons. The first of those is that I did not have a good example of how to discipline children that have misbehaved when I was a child. My father was abusive, and that left its marks on me that I still deal with today. I still cringe when I hear people use a certain tone spoke by a man, and I still have panic attacks at the sound of an 18-wheeler slowing down, because you can hear it a long way off, and it meant my dad, a truck driver, was about to be home. After I got my driver’s license, I found it easier to be elsewhere when he was home, but it wasn’t always effective as a plan. The second of those is a little more embarrassing to me – just after I was saved, I took to…embellishing my testimony with tall tales because I wanted to seem important or God to be as big as He really is so I could save others (I can’t). Whatever the reason, I told some really horrible lies about where I had really been spiritually. I was as you would expect an emotional wreck, but I was not as bad off as I made it out to be. Again, for whatever reason, I told those lies and after 34 years, it isn’t always possible to make it right anymore. So the Lord disciplined me, because there is no hiding wrongdoing from Him. It also taught me that even if you have the best of motives, if you go about something the wrong way, it’s just another evil deed.
God wants so much better from us that those kinds of things. He wants to transform us because the Truth is so much more interesting than any lie we could come up with, and He has no need for any of us to trick people into the kingdom. He will call who He calls. Our job isn’t to save people, it is His. Our job is simply to be faithful to preach the words He gives us. With that said, let’s hop into the next paragraph.
4: You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;
- Continuing from the not growing weary and losing heart, comes this statement. I can honestly tell you that I have never been bloodied up as a result of fighting against sin. Emotional scars are the worst I’ve had, and those are somehow easier to get over. Even the times I was beaten up by more than two attackers wasn’t really striving against sin at the time. I was getting beat up because back in the day, I had a big mouth, not because I was a saint. I wasn’t one of those until I was 18.
5: and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “MY son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
- No matter how often we seem to be told, sometimes our memories are very short, especially when spiritual and scriptural principles are involved. The author here is about to remind us of this fact. “You have forgotten the encouragement which is addressed to you as sons.” The gist here is that we have short memories. There is a second point – it is addressed to us as SONS! The Greek word here is significant – it is huios, mature offspring as opposed to teknon, immature children, or one of the other forms that indicate either a diminutive of that or infant. Mature children should have a concept of infraction and punishment, and that if they choose the behaviour, they choose the consequences. We are the mature offspring of God here.
- Then the author of Hebrews quotes either Job 5:17 or Proverbs 3:11 (probably the latter because the next quoted verse is Proverbs 3:12). The encouragement tells us that when the Lord disciplines us we shouldn’t disregard such chastising, nor should it melt us like a snowflake.
6: For those whom the Lord loves HE disciplines, And HE scourges every son whom HE receives.”
- The point of the Holy Spirit here is that the Lord disciplines those He loves. I paused when I thought about this for a few seconds with a chuckle – God must love me a lot, right love? The point is that God WANTS us to make the right choices, and the best way to help us see that is to allow us to suffer the consequences of our actions sometimes. And He scourges every mature offspring that belongs to Him. There is no getting away from that.
- Now I need to say a word here. You recall last week that I admitted I was in a personality cult, the ministry of one George Geftakys? I actually lived in a brother’s training house. In that home, we had a system that I only found out about when I had already moved in. You see, there were standards that had t be upheld, and I don’t really disagree with that. Each person in the house (including the pastor that owned the house) had a list of duties for which they were responsible. Again, no problems, it seems good that if you’re going to spiritually benefit from living there, you should do your bit and pitch in to keep the place clean. Duties rotated periodically so that we wouldn’t get bored to death with what we were tasked with. All of that was just fine. Until I missed a spot. It was treated like a supreme court case, and I was issued consequences (in the units of 15 minutes of housework) to perform. It isn’t the extra housework that I object to – it’s the overemphasis on punishment for wrongdoing for things that are not really wrong. I went through that until I was 19 at home with my dad. Thankfully, no one was physically violent toward me. My worst infraction ever? I forgot my eyeglasses on the family room on the mantle of the fireplace. I had been helping moving furniture around, and they kept slipping off my nose because of the sweat, so I took them off and folded them neatly and then (I didn’t need them as badly then) forgot about them. The next morning, the guy in charge of enforcement was standing there when I emerged from my bedroom at 5:45 a.m. for my shower with them held out at arm’s length and dangling. “What are these?” he demanded. All that to say, we should learn the principle that when we choose the action we are at the same time choosing predictable consequences. We should not MAKE those consequences – that’s just plain legalism, and it was one of the ways that group held control over a lot of people for a long time.
7: It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
- However, discipline is one of those things that we must suffer – and since that word “endure” is used, we must suffer long. If you’re a parent, you should understand this, because you’ve had a moment where your child has behaved poorly, and you must correct that behaviour. This involves disciplining the child. That involves a lot of things, up to and including a spanking, administered in love, not anger. God never disciplines us in anger, so we shouldn’t either. We do it because we love our kids and we want them to be okay. That’s why God disciplines us – he wants us to be okay in every circumstance to choose the right thing to do. And we ALL need His discipline.
8: But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
- In fact, the author of Hebrews, and the true Author of all Scripture is making this one of the ways you can know you are one of His sons! If your way is hard and you are being disciplined, you can know you are His! If you aren’t suffering that discipline, and all of His mature offspring are partakers of it, then you are “illegitimate children” here in the text. Jesus calls you “tares.” Ray Comfort calls you “false converts.” The Apostle Paul calls you “false brethren.” The Apostle Peter calls you “false teachers.” The Apostle John calls you “an antichrist.” Jude calls you an “ungodly person,” and has a lot of things to say about you in his short letter. You are not God’s offspring at all if you’re in that category. I have two things to suggest to you if you find yourself in that category.
- The first thing I have to suggest is that you repent and believe the Gospel. I know of many false converts that later realized they were not truly in the faith and came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I urge you to honestly turn from your sins and partake of the love of God that He gave through His Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
- If you don’t want to do that, then my second suggestion to you is instead of the first. Leave. Friends, God called me to shepherd His flock, and part of that job is predator patrol. I know what a wolf looks like, and I know how to drive you away. If you do not want to deal with the wrath of God on your life as will fall on all the sons of destruction, then please turn, that is repent, and believe the Gospel. If need be, I can make the introduction.
9: Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?
- And if you do not find the discipline of God pleasant, and really who does – it’s discipline – the author switches to a natural analogy. We all have earthly fathers or father figures for the most part. These men disciplined us and we respected the law they laid down for us. How much more should we respect the discipline and rule of the “Father of spirits,” a direct reference to Him creating all of us? For me, this came as really GOOD news! As I have related before, my father was an abusive man. It is hard for me now 8 years after his death to admit that, because it wasn’t all abuse all the time. He and I had some REALLY good father-son moments. He taught me how to shoot straight with bow and gun, how to hunt and track, how to skin a deer, all the stuff the son of a Metis warrior should know, right? This has something to do with what comes next.
10: For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.
- You see they disciplined us for a short time – in my case 17 years – and then he realized he would be better off offering fatherly advice rather than trying to start a fight with me. At age 17, my father bullied me mercilessly, and called me out almost every day he was home from an 18-wheeler trip (his job). One day, I had had enough, and I obliged. It was the last time he ever raised a hand toward me. I won’t go into details, but it was emotional and difficult for him as well as me, and I wasn’t the one who had a mouthful of blood by the end of it. Maybe that offends your sensibilities – it offended mine too. Years later, he apologized for it all. I accepted and we reconciled.
- What I had come to realize is that this is what seemed best to him. I once heard it said when I was a kid that people do the best they can with what they have. It occurred to me that my dad grew up in the same kind of harsh environment he was providing for me and my three younger sisters. He simply didn’t know and really couldn’t even conceive of another way. He was trying to take a baby boy – his only son – and make me hard enough to survive in a cruel world. I did a little digging and found out that there really is only one reason that a German Lutheran Boy and French Catholic Girl would ever get married – if you need a hint, it had something to do with my dad – and Grandma never forgave my dad for it, like he had anything to do with it. That information helped me understand that maybe all that hostile behaviour my dad displayed is because he had to grow up in that kind of environment. He disciplined me as seemed best to him.
- Our GOD does not so discipline us. He only disciplines us for our own good, so that we may share His holiness. Did you catch that? God is holy! He is making US to be holy so that we can be with Him forever! How good is that? All that stuff from my earthly father has been processed, and I can now use it as a genuine example of this kind of thing. Like I just did. Hopefully you learned something from it like I did. My lessons were long and painful, and I hope yours is not.
11: All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
But whether our experiences of God disciplining us are painful or not (and they should be – it’s discipline after all), for all those that will allow that suffering to mold them, and to transform them by the renewing of their mind, that is their thought patterns, it is guaranteed to yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Overall, we will all undergo the discipline of God in our lives. If we don’t, we aren’t really His sons (mature offspring), but are false converts or worse, wolves in sheep’s clothing – the kind of people that should be driven out of the church when discovered. John Calvin said that the pastor ought to have two voices: one for gathering the sheep; and another for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves. I trust that the Lord Jesus Christ is helping me to develop both and teaching me how and when to use both.
There is in the last paragraph in verse 10 a hint at where we are headed.
12-17: Pursue sanctification with longsuffering
If we are not allowing God to produce purity, wholesomeness, holiness in us, then we are resisting God’s will for our lives, plain and simple. And if we are resisting the will of God, we will miss out. In fact verse 14 of this very chapter explains that sanctification should be our long-term goal.
As a reminder, sanctification is the process by which God uses the trials in our lives sanctify us – that is, to make us holy, so that we can see Him – and so that we may be with Him for eternity as we do His will wherever He will place us.
12: Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble,
- As is usual, we begin with the word “therefore,” a word that joins what is about to follow with what has come before. That sets the context here as that discipline that the Lord performs in the lives of His mature offspring. The call here is for these individuals to strengthen weak hands and feeble knees. As the Lord disciplines us, we should be the more diligent to perform His good works He directs us to and to continue in prayer to Him. I would stop short of saying “suck it up, buttercup,” because it isn’t really helpful, and it isn’t just everyone doing it for themselves. Shepherds and spokesmen should be encouraging others as well. I suppose if the first comment has truth to it, so does this one: “Help them stand, godly man!”
13: and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
- I could get into the Greek of the verse here, how this talks about how we need to make upright paths for ourselves, how the words “the limb” do not actually occur in the Greek, so that the sense is, “that which is lame may not be turned away or turned aside,” and I would not be wrong to tell you that.
- I very much get the sense that we are to do the planning that will enable all of the “walking wounded” that we are to walk those paths we plan and be made whole, healed, made complete. And make no mistake, we are all walking wounded. The world system is never kind to the child of God. It hated Jesus, and it hates us. So we must plan and make it so that “the lame” will not be turned aside from their walk. One could say that we are to make allowances for those who are weak in faith – AND NOT MAKE A BIG DEAL OUT OF IT. Just do it, and don’t remind them of how they are weak in faith. That’s God’s job to fix, not yours.
14: Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.
- The message here is very simple. Follow after (without hostility) peace [eirene, the welfare of the other individual or men as a group] with ALL men. That is inclusive and not as easy as it sounds. If you have a difficult neighbour or brother in your fellowship, and we have all experienced these folks, we need to be pursuing peace with them as much as possible. This does NOT mean we discard essential doctrines of the faith like the five Solae or the Gospel to maintain a false peace, but we should not unnecessarily antagonize the brethren. Our first move should be to keep peace, not start arguments to see if one is a supralapsarian or an infralapsarian. I used big theological words there on purpose without explaining them to demonstrate. It really doesn’t matter what those things mean for the purposes of our discussion. I’ve seen these very words trigger massive argumentative debate that morphed into name-calling and accusations of heresy that lasted for days and are still up on Facebook for all to read. (Maybe part of the problem is that they used $50 words in the first place.)
- The second part of that phrase is that we should pursue sanctification. Not just any old sanctification, but “the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” there is a definite article here, and that means something. Sanctification can be a specific kind. It should be the kind that causes us to pursue the Lord! Just being nice is not enough. It isn’t always appropriate to be tolerant when wolves are around to go after the sheep you are charged with caring for. If a Word of Faith charlatan is around the edges of your flock, you should be making your message about how the prosperity gospel is a false gospel and why for the safety and health of the sheep in your flock. Don’t tell me about tolerance while there is a danger of your sheep being fleeced or worse. What is that sanctification that will allow us to see the Lord? It is the doing of His will. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else. It matters.
15: See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;
- These verses to this point (including this one) have been written in the imperative, and that means they are commands. To whom are these commands? Is it to the pastors and other elders and deacons alone? Perhaps, but I believe that they are to all the believers in the group. Part of being a believer that is commanded to fellowship with other believers here in this book is to see to the spiritual health of your fellow believers. “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God.” Make sure that people are not relying on their own strength for their salvation by their own hand. I’ve seen this and it looks ugly to me.
- Here is another practical suggestion. While you are busy encouraging your brothers and sisters in your congregation, sometimes your words will cause anger, and anger can cause this thing called bitterness to spring up. This is even more ugly. People become angry and spiteful towards each other, and this will cause problems (trouble) every time. More, because of the nature of people in connection with gatherings and that kind of dynamic, explosions of temper will be public, and leave those who witnessed it feeling like they need a shower afterword. The only answer for this is to pursue grace for all – because that will lead to forgiveness, just like it did when the grace of God found us all in Jesus Christ.
16: that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.
- This is part of the imperative of the last verse, the “see to it” command. Here there is to be no “immoral” [pornos, fornicator] or godless [bebelos, profane or unholy] person in the gathering. I need to address a couple of specific things in the model of a New Testament gathering from this verse.
- First, there is only one correct and legal context for sexual activity for Christians. It is between a man and his wife. If it is outside of that context in any way, it is sin, and this has been recognized since the days of Jesus and before. If a young man and his co-habiting girlfriend begin attending your gathering, it is the duty of the leadership to say something to the couple (and only to the couple, by the way, not to broadcast it like gossip all over the gathering). That’s an example.
- Second, we need to define a word here, “profane.” The word bebelos implies a kind of a threshold that is crossed in word or behaviour that could be considered unholy. I have seen this before as well. I used to attend a Pentecostal place, and after the first Pastor I ever had (Pastor Bruce Nehring, a godly man who taught from the scriptures first – he went home to heaven last year – and Evan, I know you view this online sometimes, I still miss your dad) had moved on to a new church in I think Brandon, Manitoba, a little clique formed of guys about my age, and they stood out behind the church smoking, sometimes funny cigarettes with that skunky smell, telling each other dirty jokes, but also evaluating each other’s girlfriends. I wasn’t there for any of that, but I did know at least some of the guys involved, and I was shocked when I heard. That must fit the description of profane. They crossed a line, a threshold. And it was unholy behaviour and words. It nearly broke my heart when one of them invited me out behind the bus station in Thunder Bay while we were going home for Christmas. He was shocked when I declined, and I was able after to try to talk to him gently about the course he was on. He used to hang around with the pastor’s son Evan. Sorry to let that drop, but I won’t drop his name now.
- Why must these kind of people NOT be in the midst of a Christian gathering? I believe it is because THEY ARE NOT CHRISTIANS, at least not yet. And this verse even gives another example, and IT NAMES NAMES. Esau, the brother of Jacob (who became Israel). That man, it tells us, sold his birthright for a potful of lentil stew. He was ruled by his appetites, and perhaps that is the best description of those who are described by immorality or profanity in a wider sense. And Scripture tells us that God loved Jacob – but hated Esau. I won’t get into why but to say that perhaps this was one of the reasons why. I personally do not believe Esau was one of the chosen of God. Here is why.
17: For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.
- If we were to take the time to read the story in Genesis 27 and around that chapter (we won’t or we will run out of time), we would see that family politics aside (Jacob tricked the blessing out of Isaac), Esau did not value the things of God, and so when he went to Isaac for his blessing, Isaac didn’t have one left for him. He was “rejected” as it says here, and I believe that to have been by God’s design. He could not afterward find repentance in his own heart, even though he wanted to be able to repent. Shades of Voltaire – while Voltaire was dying, he prayed with tears and true sorrow and great terror – and could not find it to believe in a way that would save him – and entered eternity and the presence of God in that unrepentant state. After his death, Voltaire’s home became (and I believe still is) the headquarters for the European Bible Society. What terrible and tragic irony.
Beloved, if we will not pursue the sanctification that will allow us into the presence of God, if we will not govern ourselves, we will lose things that we cannot imagine that we could lose that will be all the more significant to us on that day. I find it interesting that the so-called golden chain of salvation does not include sanctification as an activity necessary for our glorification or perfection (the completion of our salvation) before God. In order, Romans 8:29-30 talk about how God foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and finally glorified His elect. All those verbs were in the past tense meaning that it is a done deal for the elect, and I’m not going to start a discussion about what the elect of God represent other than to say we can say that these people are the saved of earth. However, distinct by its absence here is sanctification, or the process of being made holy like the Lord.
This is possibly because God is absolutely monergistic about salvation. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves in any sense except sanctification. This seems to be, by all references I can find in the Scriptures, synergistic, in that God allows us to cooperate if we will. There are numerous verses that talk about his, but the best one of these is in 1 Peter 1:9, where after going into detail about the troubles we suffer as a Christian, it says, “obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” That word there for souls is psuche, and means the personality, the mind, the inner thoughts. This should be contrasted against the pneuma, the spirit – the part of us that is born dead in all humans, and that God regenerates when we are born again as per John 3:3. Contrast this further against soma, the body, the physical manifestation of us. I think this is all saying that faith brings us all the faculties we are taking time to build in our present circumstances. The short version of what I am trying to say without going through all the passages is that our souls – our mind, our thoughts, our unique personality – everything we are – is in some part our heavenly reward. It is synergistic in nature, because we must cooperate with the Lord as He forms us. See 1 Cor, 3:10-15. As further evidence, I suggest that Jesus’ Bride did this herself – Rev. 19:7-8, which reads, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” It isn’t included in the golden chain of salvation because it isn’t really necessary – the Father will make you like the Son in your glorified state. You can cooperate now and have your faculties changed according to His will for a reward, or you can fight Him on it and He will do it for you – but you may lose out on all the things that make you, well, you. Don’t worry, though – you will still love and serve the Lord for eternity – you will be saved – but so as through the fire, according to that text in 1 Cor. 3. I’m not dogmatic on any of that, but it makes sense to me.
But why should we endure these things? What is the point?
18-24: Because you have come to heavenly reality
The author of Hebrews tells us that you have come to something, and it is no average destination, and it is certainly like nothing you that has ever been encountered by men, including Moses and Elijah, whose incidence of encountering God are referenced in the next paragraph. The suggestion by the author is that this is something new. Something completely different. Something amazing. Something like where no man has gone before. (For those of you who were counting, that was three different movie references, but that’s not important right now. Okay, that’s four. I’ll stop now.) What could this be? Let’s look.
18: For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind,
- For those who have read the book of Exodus, you may recognize that this is the description of the Mount Sinai where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments (twice). This is more than a physical location – a mountain that can be physically touched. And when God encountered both Moses and Elijah, the fire, then the darkness and gloom, and then the whirlwind were encountered before the calm that surrounded God. This is more than an elemental experience of power. That is NOT where we have come.
19: and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them.
- This is more of the events that Moses encountered during the giving of the Law of God. The trumpet was blown to gather the people to the foot of the mountain, which by command was not allowed to be touched on pain of death. And the sound of the words was God speaking with Moses – and it was so loud and frightening to Israel that they begged that God speak no more with them, but with Moses only. THIS is ALSO NOT where we have come – to a loud and frightening God.
20: For they could not bear the command, “IF even A beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.”
- More detail, noted in the last verse. It is more than the holy ground that no living thing was allowed to touch.
21: And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.”
- Even MOSES was afraid. WE have come to more than that. Where is this place that we have come?
22: But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels,
- We have come to Mount Zion, the heavenly home of God, and that city of which He was the architect and builder – the city of the living God. It is that better country all those of whom the world was and is not worthy seek their citizenship, the heavenly Jerusalem – to myriads, that is millions I think, of angels. One angel in the Old Testament slew 185,000 men in one night. Here there are multiple millions of them. This place certainly inspires awe and fear of the first order. It is that better reality with those better things, better promises, all that.
23: to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,
- This is the space where the Church Universal lives. It is the home of all believers through all time. What? You thought the church was a building? Wow, are you wrong! Peter calls us the church and tells us that we are all built up together like the living stones into the Church. The general assembly reference combined with the church of the firstborn (that’s a reference to Christ, the firstborn) tells us that it is all believers from all time. And where are we enrolled? Why heaven, of course.
- Someone else lives there. God, the Judge of all. You know, when we were talking about the discipline that God puts us through, that is part of the justice of God. Judgement does begin at the house of God, and that is a part of that. The next group that is mentioned is a related group because of that – the spirits of the righteous made perfect. That’s us, come through the other side of all that suffering under His discipline.
24: and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.
- Who else is there? Our Lord Jesus, the One we love! The one who died and redeemed us to Himself, purchasing a particular people for His own possession. Because of His willing sacrifice, He is the mediator of the New Covenant! Does everyone understand that a mediator is the one that stands between the two parties of a contract (our modern word for covenant) to make sure that both parties find satisfaction in the covenant? You DO?!? Wow, you must have gone to a Biblical Theology class! Just kidding, that’s what it means.
- The sprinkled blood is a reference to the blood of the sacrifice that is sprinkled within the Holy of Holies by the High Priest. As you will recall from just a few weeks ago, the Levitical High Priest would do this once a year to sanctify the altar and mercy seat because it was where God sat and sinful man was coming as a supplicant for His mercy. That sacrifice had to be repeated – until Jesus offered His own blood in this heavenly reality – and it effectively ended the Old Covenant under the Mosaic Law.
- In fact, it is said to speak better than the blood of Abel from Genesis 4. Abel’s blood was shed by a jealous brother over Abel making a better choice to sacrifice an animal from his flock. Abel understood that blood had to be shed to deal with his sinfulness. Cain, on the other hand offered vegetables, the work of his hands, which can never cleanse us from sin. Cain became jealous enough to kill Abel over it. Can you hear the comment Cain made to his brother just before he hits him with the rock? “Hey, mister blood sacrifice – if your God loves blood to atone for our natures so much, he can have YOURS!” Bang with the rock. Abel’s murder became a type of Christ’s sacrifice – someone’s own blood was offered – only Jesus was willing. I don’t think Abel gave consent. Christ’s blood speaks louder and better than Abel’s.
Why do we go through all of the trouble that we do? Sure God is disciplining us, sometimes as punishment, sometimes for prevention, sometimes for our education – and we can choose how we respond to it, I suppose. But why would we do it? Well, I think it comes down to this – everyone will ultimately come to the same place of course – we have come into the very presence of all those heavenly realities that we have been considering since chapter 9. And those heavenly and better realities are HUGE! It isn’t like anything anyone has ever experienced. I guess Paul was telling us the truth in 1 Cor. 2:9 – “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love Him.” With that understood, we should understand that God disciplines those He loves, and that He will judge His people first. A shaking is coming upon everyone and everything, and who and what will stand in that day?
25-29: Warning not to be shaken
That great shaking will leave nothing untouched. It will leave no one untouched. Things that are right now high and lifted up will be brought down to the ground. Arrogance will have no place on that day, and the arrogant will find no place to hide. Humble recognition of who we are before God will be the only relief, and only believers will have that. The author of Hebrews here makes serious warning to all.
25: See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.
- DO NOT REFUSE GOD. For the unbeliever or the near-believer, here, this is a call to believe the Gospel. Accept responsibility for your wrongdoings, the old-time word there is SINS, and acknowledge them to God, and that YOU committed them. Admit YOU are a SINNER. Believe that Jesus, God the Son, became human to die in your place, and that He did that for you. Believe that God raised Him from the dead to show that your sins were paid in full. There is a part of the Gospel that often is left out, and I want to mention it here. Believe that He is returning, and when He returns, His reward will be with Him. Depending on whether you refuse Him or not, your “reward” will be different.
- For the believer, this has some implications as well. It is possible that we can actually disobey Him, though for real Christians, this is a more difficult thing. We can miss out on some things if we are not walking in obedience. Make an effort to go through those hard things the Lord brings our way. Let the Lord sanctify you this way. Cooperate with Him. Or don’t – and miss out on things that others will get in front of you and instead of you. There are consequences for not obeying Christ.
- “For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth (referring to Moses in Ex. 20:22), much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.” We know that disobedience has a price. It had one then, and it will have a bigger one now. Don’t refuse the Lord.
26: And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.”
- Remember that great shaking? Here is where it shows up. When God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, it thundered loudly enough to shake the earth at least in the local area. The next time this shaking takes place, God is promising that it will ALSO shake the HEAVENS! This is going to happen at the return of Christ Jesus the King to earth. And His reward will be with Him (Rev. 22:12).
27: This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
- Why the shaking? Well, to destroy all the temporary “stuff.” Like the technology we use. Our cities. The mountains. Like that. Anything that can be shaken WILL be shaken – and what is left over will be the permanent reality that God is making. Is this part of the Parousia of Jesus Christ described (among other places) in Revelation 19, or is it part of the day of Uncreation talked about in Revelation 20? Or is there a difference? I don’t know. I think so because of the way it was presented there, personally, but I’m not dogmatic on this point.
28: Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe;
And after all the shaking is done, and the Kingdom of Christ is now ready for us to inhabit, the attitude we should reflect toward God is gratitude, that is thankfulness. It is that gratitude that is to motivate our service to God with reverence and awe – the only way we should ever approach God or render service to Him.
29: for our God is a consuming fire.
And He will consume anyone or anything that is shaken on that day. As that consuming fire, He will consume anything that He has not ordained to survive as the Sovereign of the universe.
In 1 Cor. 3:10-15, which reads, “According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” Paul talks about the fire that will try all our works, and explains how it will consume everything that does not measure up to the standard God sets for us. If anyone’s work remains, Paul tells us that they will receive reward from God. If anyone’s work is burned, they will still be saved, “yet so as through the fire,” which to me says that there is more than just justification at stake. I take that to mean that sanctification is important, if things will be lost if we do not at least try to live for Christ. Indeed, our God is a consuming fire.
It seems to me that the key to all this is our endurance, or rather our attitude of longsuffering. If we will endure to the end, it will be good for us. If we do not, it will not be a good ending, especially not for those who will not believe and refuse the Saviour. May we be those that persevere right to the end.
That’s chapter 12.